Recipe: pepper-spiced wraps & soup using sweet potatoes and mushrooms

Recently I heavily adapted a few recipes from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, using the on-farm ingredients we had on hand, to make a really nice multi-course pseudo-Mexican meal that was tied together by a few basic and seasonal (for us, anyway) ingredients. I doubt anyone will make this just as I describe it, but I want to share what I did to demonstrate a few useful techniques for combining similar ingredients in multiple ways. You could adapt this for all sorts of available inputs. I basically started with a simple pepper sauce made from our dried peppers, them used that in several related dishes. Using sweet potatoes instead of normal potatoes gives everything a really nice, rich color, and a sweeter flavor that balances spiciness nicely. As usual, our on-farm ingredients listed in italics.
BASIC PEPPER SAUCE (this ties everything else together)
1-2 dried chipotles
handful dried sweet peppers
handful dried tomatoes
2T roasted or chopped garlic
handful fresh cilantro
4-6oz scallions, chopped, tops reserved for soup
1 cup meat or vegetable broth
salt & pepper to taste
Puree or hand-grind the dried ingredients into a flaky powder (careful: pepper dust can be strong); I use a food processor. Reserve a bit for fried potatoes (below). Add the other ingredients and puree again until you have a thick sauce.
Pepper sauce (above)
1/2-1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped sweet potatoes
Scallion tops (chopped, from sauce, above)
3-5 cups meat or vegetable broth
1 cup whole milk (or cream)
Cook the sauce over medium heat for a few minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer. Reserve 1 cup for cooking meat (below). Add potatoes & mushrooms and cook 1/2 hour or until tender. A few minutes before serving, add milk/cream and stir to combine. Serve topped with scallion greens.
Tortillas (we make ours fresh)
1lb sweet potato, diced
Ground pepper spice from sauce (above)
Olive oil, salt, & pepper
1lb chicken breasts or other tender meat
1 cup reserved soup broth (above)
1 cup soft cheese (we use our fresh ricotta)
Place chicken or other meat in shallow baking dish. Pour soup broth over the meat and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes, until tender.
With 20 minutes to go on the meat, heat some oil in a heavy pan. Toss diced potatoes with pepper spice, oil, salt, & pepper. Fry, stirring frequently, until cooked.
Fill tortillas with meat, fried potatoes, chopped scallion greens, and cheese. Serve soup on side, topped with scallion greens. This goes especially well with a sweet, refreshing drink like mojitos.

Recipe: excellent pasta/polenta topping using farm-preserved ingredients

I don’t really know what to call this (a sauce? a topping?), but we’ve made it several times as an easy way to combine many different preserved/stored ingredients into a delicious meal.  Thick and richly flavored, we’ve served it both on pasta or polenta (pictured below) and it could make an excellent bruschetta as well. I’m including notes on the ingredient sources, as well, as this is almost entirely an on-farm meal drawing heavily on the diverse foods we put up for winter. This could easily be made with purchased items, but was especially pleasing as an on-farm meal. It could be made with all fresh ingredients, too, but would likely be thinner and saucier; I like the thick, lumpy texture the preserved items give it. Amounts are my best guess; farm-sourced ingredients in italics.

1 cup thinly sliced red/yellow onions (stored from fall; could use dried)
1 cup diced shiitake mushrooms (freshly harvested, could use dried)
3 cloves minced garlic (stored from fall)
1/2 cup minced cured ham (optional; cured from fall butchering)
1 cup dried tomatoes (stored from fall)
1/4 cup dried bell peppers (stored from fall)
1T basil (packed in olive oil & frozen from fall)
1/4 cup feta cheese (made fresh from our spring goat’s milk)
1t salt (extracted from specially dug brine well…ok, just kidding)
Boil a pan of water to rehydrate any dried ingredients being used (turn off the heat and place all ingredients in the water, letting them soak for 10-15 minutes until soft). Meanwhile, saute the onions in a bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes, until soft and sweet. Add mushrooms, garlic, and ham (if using) and saute for ~5 minutes more. Drain, chop, and add any rehydrated ingredients along with the basil & cheese. Mix well and cook for just a minute or two more to combine flavors and temperatures, then serve.
Using this on pasta is quite easy. In the photo above, I used freshly-made polenta from fresh-ground farm corn instead, which adds a richer flavor to the dish. We generally cook our polenta (cornmeal, water, and salt) in a large pot for 30 minutes or so, then bake it in a large glass dish for another 30 minutes. You could also add this to bread for bruschetta.
For this late March meal, we balanced the main dish with a fresh spinach/sorrel salad straight from our overwintered greens, topped with a German pickled egg, one of our favorite ways to use up extra eggs. Simply hardboil a set of eggs, gently crack the shells, then steep in a brine (water boiled with salt and onion trimmings) for a few days. I find that 6-7 eggs fit nicely in a quart jar. An excellent snack or topping with lovely flavor.

Recipe: parsnip/mushroom/sweet potato shepherd’s pie

I think a core skill in cooking, especially for those using fresh/seasonal/local ingredients, is learning how to adapt or invent recipes. It’s more efficient, cost-effective, and interesting to learn to read between the lines of recipes in order to understand what is needed to make them work, and what is optional or adaptable.
This “recipe” is an excellent example of this process, something I adapted heavily from several cookbooks to meet what we had on hand. It was fantastic as-made, but is widely adaptable to various ingredients as long as you follow the core needs. In this case, we had just harvested a large batch of over-wintered parsnips as well as nearly a pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms (last year’s logs are fruiting heavily at the moment), and wanted to feature those along with whatever else we had on hand. I don’t really expect anyone to make this exact version, but it demonstrates how easily one can adapt a basic recipe to make a unique and seasonal dish without worrying about most specific ingredients. Here’s roughly what we had on hand:
My final result is heavily adapted from the Shepherd’s Pie recipe  (p 178) in one of our favorite obscure cookbooks, “In a Vermont Kitchen“. The original calls for potatoes, onion, garlic, cheese, lamb, corn, and herbs. You’ll see we changed almost everything to use what we had on hand (for example, we’re out of storage potatoes but have lots of sweet potatoes left), but came out with a comparable result. We also added a biscuit topping from Moosewood New Classics (p. 292), as we usually do when making Shepherd’s Pie.

One specific note: this calls for roasted garlic, which adds a lot of time to this recipe. We pre-roast whole trays of garlic at a time, then squeeze the flesh into ice cube trays and freeze. These garlic “cubes” are about the equivalent of a full head, store very well in freezer bags and can be pulled out at a moment’s notice to add flavor to soups, sauces, and other recipes. I used one here to save time and bother.
Ingredients in italics were sourced from the farm.


1 head roasted garlic

1lb sweet potatoes
4T butter
1/2lb sausage (optional; leave out or use any desired meat)

2 cups chopped parsnips

1 cup chopped onion
few T minced fresh sage, thyme, oregano
2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms

 salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1/2 cup grated hard cheese (I meant to use our aged cheddar and completely forgot; with the biscuit topping I didn’t even notice until after we’d eaten).

2 cups flour

1/2t salt

1T baking powder
1/2t baking soda

6T melted butter

1 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Chop the sweet potatoes and boil until soft. Add the butter and roasted garlic, and mash until  thick and smooth, adding water or milk if needed. Layer these onto the bottom of a deep baking dish.

Meanwhile, crumble & saute the sausage, then layer on the potato mash. Saute the onions & parsnips in the sausage grease (or oil/butter if not using sausage) for 10 minutes or until reasonably tender, adding the chopped herbs in the last minute. Mix well and layer onto the sausage. Add some more butter to pan and saute mushrooms for 5 minutes or so, until they’re lightly browned and have absorbed the moisture, then layer onto the onion/parsnip mix. Add grated cheese if using.
Make the topping by mixing dry & wet ingredients separately, then quickly combining into a soft batter. Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto the top of the layered ingredients, making a reasonable cover. Immediately place in the hot oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve with a wide spoon that can scoop out all layers at once.
Here’s the final result: a rich, delicious layering of simple ingredients that work well together. No fancy flavorings or methods needed, just a bit of time and the willingness to improvise.

Sweet potato curry

After having a very nice vegetable curry at Bluebird Bistro on our recent trip, I was determined to recreate something similar at home. I’ve made various forms of curries for many years, but generally relied on the crutch of manufactured curry paste. This time, I decided to ditch the paste (which we were out of anyway) and create my own spice mix, based on the abundant varieties of on-farm peppers we dried this year. These have an amazing, strong flavor when used in a spice mix, but I have no idea if store-bought ones would be as potent, so you may want to experiment if that’s what you use.

It’s a good winter recipe, relying on well-storing items like leeks and sweet potatoes, and easily frozen items like peas, though obviously you could use fresh ingredients at other times. I don’t have a photo, but this came out wonderfully and was quite easy to make. The amounts are estimates, as I didn’t take notes while making it. On-farm ingredients in italics.

4-6 dried anaheim peppers (4″ long)
2 dried jalapenos
1/4 cup chopped dried bell peppers
2t coriander
1t cardamom
1/2t turmeric
1/2t annato seed (a Filipino spice)

1.5 lb sweet potatoes, sliced 1/2″ thick
2 cups snow peas
4 small leeks, chopped into rounds 1/4″ thick
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 14oz can coconut milk
1T soy sauce

To make the spice mix, roughly chop all the dried peppers with a knife, then place in a food processor with a sharp blade. Blend for as long as it takes to shatter these into a powdery mix with a few stubborn chunks remaining. Meanwhile, grind the other spices with a mortar and add to the processor when you’re almost done. Warning: the pepper powder/dust is pretty strong and will have you sneezing if you’re not careful. The aroma is delightful, though.

Meanwhile, bring the coconut milk to a simmer in a large saucepan and add the sweet potatoes, leeks, garlic, soy sauce, and spice mix (you might start with half and see how the flavor develops, as my estimated quantities are just that). Simmer, stirring now and then, until the sweet potatoes are almost soft. You may need to add water if there isn’t enough liquid to cover everything. A few minutes before you want to eat, add the snow peas so they cook just enough; you don’t want them reduced to mush.

Serve over rice or noodles.

Scratch on-farm BBQ sauce

We like making things from scratch rather than buying them, especially condiments and processed foods; I’ve been making my own mustard for years. This fall, as I began to experiment with both pork and a smoker, developing a reliable BBQ sauce recipe became a high priority. After several rounds of experimentation, here’s one I came up with that we’ve really liked. It would probably be considered a Kansas City-style sauce, a sweet/sour tomato sauce that’s rich and tasty. Using our own farm-smoked chipotle peppers really adds to the flavor. It doesn’t have to be a meat condiment; the flavor is plenty good for adding flavor to rice, eggs, and lots of other things. As I often do, I’ll note on-farm ingredients in italics.

2 red onions
5 cloves garlic
1T cumin
1T coriander
1t mustard seed
1t paprika
1t black pepper
2 chipotle peppers (our own dried & smoked jalapenos; dried or fresh regular jalapenos work too)
2lb tomatoes
1 cup water
1t salt
1/4 cup sorghum
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup tomato paste (made & canned in the fall)
Saute onions, then garlic, in a bit of oil in a large pot. If using fresh jalapenos, chop in with garlic. If using dried peppers, grind with all spices in a good mortar and stir them in for a few more minutes. When this is all nicely aromatic and sizzling, add everything else, stir to blend, and allow to simmer for as long as you want. I generally go for a few hours, to really blend the flavors and get it nice and thick. At some point I’ll combine everything with an immersion blender to get the texture I want. Adjust flavors as needed; it should be a good blend of sweet and sour with a nice kick to it. This freezes well for easy use later, and is good to make in fall with abundant tomatoes, or winter with canned and dried ingredients.

Recipe: stuffed tomatoes

Everyone’s heard of stuffed peppers; now try it with tomatoes. This year we planted a unique variety called Striped Cavern, which has thick sidewalls and a nearly empty cavity. Thus you can easily slice open the top, scoop out the inside like a pumpkin, and stuff with all sorts of interesting fillings. Then you can roast the whole thing, or just serve raw. I think it would be fun to fill with gazpacho as a tomato-bowl kind of thing.

Here’s a recipe for a cooked version that worked well for a quick after-market dinner on Saturday evening. This is based on Deborah Madison’s recipe “Tomatoes Stuffed with Herbed Grains” in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Mix the stuffing together in a bowl. The specific ingredients are infinitely adaptable based on what’s on hand. This is a general guide, with the actual ingredients that I used this time in parentheses. I had enough stuffing for about 5 tomatoes.

–a cup or two of cooked grain (leftover brown rice)
–a couple of cloves of minced garlic or a small onion (2 cloves Samarkand garlic)
–a hanful of finely chopped veggies (a Doe Hill Golden Bell pepper & a small Opalka tomato)
–several tablespoons or so of minced herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano)
–a few chopped nuts (almonds)
–cheese, amount to taste (~1/2 cup of ricotta from our goats)
–salt & pepper, to taste

Cut around the stem of the Striped Cavern tomatoes and scoop out any innards. Stuff the tomatoes with the filling. Put in an oiled baking dish. Brush the outside of the tomatoes with oil. Bake at 375º for about 25 minutes, until the filling is hot.

The Striped Cavern tomatoes are prolific right now, but were hard to convince customers of at market. I got a lot of “Oh, wow, that’s really interesting!” followed by a slow backing away from the crazy man. Give them a try this weekend while they’re ripe and ready.

Simple garlic preparations

Please welcome guest author Joanna, with a run-down of the methods that we used to prepare garlic for our recent on-farm tasting event, along with a few notes about how we might tweak the recipes in future.

I basically used this recipe for roasted garlic. Roasting in muffin tins worked well, because I could label the aluminum foil that covered each variety of garlic to keep the varieties straight. I ended up cooking longer than 35 minutes. Based on a trial run a few days ago, head size matters; larger heads need more cooking time. I didn’t add any salt, but a sprinkling probably would have been a good idea. Two teaspoons of oil was slightly more than needed, but the leftover oil was good on bread.

It actually took a couple of tries to get this right, but the approach that I finally came up with was well received. I knew I needed enough garlic butter to serve 12 people, and I initially tried cooking the garlic in the full amount of butter. That was too much butter, and the flavor didn’t come though well. Tried the same thing with oil, and, again, too much oil, not enough garlic flavor coming through. That’s when I realized that most garlic butter recipes online call for raw garlic mixed with softened butter, but the whole point of this tasting was to use sauteed garlic. So, I finally found this recipe from Fine Cooking that served as the basis for my actual approach. Here’s what I did:

~4 tsp finely minced garlic (anywhere from 2 to ~8 cloves)
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 tsp salt (I used “Real Salt”, which is moderately coarse.)
1/4 cup butter

I heated a small skillet on low to medium low heat and added 2 Tbl olive oil & 1/4 tsp salt. I monitored the oil temperature with a thermometer (for consistency’s sake), adding the garlic when the temperature was ~180-190ºF. I sauteed for ~2 minutes, stirring & crushing the garlic in the process, and lifting the pan off of the heat as needed to prevent burning. After allowing the sizzling to subside, I poured the oil mix over the butter & mixed thoroughly. This went into the refrigerator, and I pulled it out a couple of hours before the tasting to allow the butter to soften, mixing it just before serving so that the garlic chunks were dispersed.

Though it was a bit on the salty side for my taste buds, the overall response was very positive.

This is pretty simple. I guessed on the quantities, aiming to make it pretty garlicky:

1/2 cup chevre
~1 Tbl garlic (2 or 3 largish cloves)
1 tsp olive oil

I made the cheese a few days before, though certainly any chevre would work. I coarsely minced the garlic, then pulverized in a large mortar and pestle, adding ~1 tsp of olive oil for lubrication. Then I added the pulverized garlic into the cheese and mixed well. I did this a few days in advance of the tasting to let the flavors blend.

Recipe: cucumber sliders

There are lots of creative ways to use abundant summer cucumbers. Here’s an easy one: mini-sandwiches. Just take a good, crispy cuke like our Poone Kheeras, slice into solid discs, spread with goat cheese (like chevre or feta), add a leaf or two of fresh basil, and complete with another cuke slice. These are easy, tasty, and cute. They’d make a great party dish or kid snack.

Cuke slices can also take the place of crackers and chips; put those expensive English tea wafers back on the shelf and use cukes to serve cheese, dips, salsas, and more. The crunchy, sweet flavor complements lots of things and is cheaper and healthier.

Recipe: zucchini cookies

Any type of summer squash can be used in these moist, tasty cookies. This recipe makes a big batch, so think twice before doubling. Extras freeze well.

4¼ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
½ -1 tsp cloves, ground
1 tsp salt
2-3 cups grated zucchini/summer squash (approx. 2 medium squash)
1½ -2 cups sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup yogurt
2 eggs
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
2 cups raisins

• Preheat oven to 375ºF.

• Pull butter out of refrigerator and allow it to warm up for a few minutes.
• In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.
• In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, and yogurt. Use a large wooden spoon if doing this by hand. Add eggs and combine thoroughly.
• Add zucchini to wet ingredients and mix.
• Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Stir just enough to combine.
• Fold in nuts and raisins.
• Drop batter by the spoonful on greased cookie sheets.
• Bake 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Recipe: zucchini bread

Everyone has a favorite zucchini bread recipe. This is ours.

3 cups flour (up to 50% whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ cup oil (such as canola)
½ cup yogurt
1½ cups sugar (or 1 cup sugar & 1/2 cup honey)
3 eggs
zest from 2 small lemons
1½ tsp vanilla
2-3 cups grated zucchini/summer squash (approx. 2 medium squash)
1 cup raisins
2/3 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

• Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

• Grease and flour 2 loaf pans or one bundt pan.
• In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
• In a large bowl, combine wet ingredients. Cream oil, sugar, and yogurt. Add eggs and combine. Mix in vanilla, lemon zest, and zucchini.
• Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
• Fold in raisins and nuts.
• Transfer batter to pan(s).
• Bake 45-60 minutes for loaf pans, or closer to 70 minutes for a bundt pan, until toothpick comes out clean. [Sorry for the vague cooking times; we typed up this recipe when we were living in National Park Service housing with very unreilable ovens, and I never seem to remember to remember to write down the actual cooking time in a well-behaved oven.]
• Cool for ten minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack.